Multi-agency intelligence sharing in the United Kingdom: A model for international reform?


In the last two decades commentators from the European Union (EU), North America and South Africa have lauded cooperation between law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the United Kingdom (UK).

The positive perception of the ‘UK Model’ of multi-agency intelligence sharing in international comparison can be explained by both a relative lack of legal obstacles and the establishment of specialised organisational structures.

However, while the UK, unlike many other western democracies, is not established on the basis of a written constitution which legally separates law enforcement and intelligence services, many legal, sociological and organisational obstacles exist, some of which have only recently been overcome.

Historically, intelligence agencies were not involved in enforcement operations and therefore lacked experience in handling information that could become evidence.

Starting with the establishment of multi-agency collaboration in the late 1980s, and fuelled by the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, police operations in the UK were, however, increasingly based on intelligence.

Numerous reforms aiming at managing the evidence-intelligence boundary were the result, focusing mainly on two areas: counter-terrorism (CT) and serious and organised crime (SOC) policing.

Applying a legal-institutional as well as historical perspective, this paper discusses whether the international praise for UK cooperation is justified from a human rights and security perspective. It is further analysed whether the ‘UK CT and SOC model’ could be used as a blueprint to improve intelligence sharing internationally. 


Dr Saskia Hufnagel is a Reader in Criminal Law at Queen Mary University of London.

She previously worked as a Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security (CEPS), Griffith University, Australia, and was a Leverhulme Fellow at the University of Leeds.

She taught at the ANU College of Law and held a permanent teaching position at the University of Canberra.

Her main research areas encompass law enforcement cooperation in Asia, North America, the EU and Australasia, comparative constitutional and human rights law with a focus on terrorism legislation and the policing of art crime.

She has widely published on national and international police cooperation, security, comparative constitutional law and art crime.

Saskia is a qualified German legal professional and accredited specialist in criminal law.

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